Integrity on Your Resume: Can You Stretch the Truth?

Stretching the truth on your resume, exaggerating your qualifications and experiences, has often been a hidden (wink-wink, nudge-nudge) tactic. At a time when a bit of economic and employment uncertainty is common (especially as there is panic in the wind over AI), the temptation to do so is strong. After all, we see our “competition” on LinkedIn, and it often seems as if everyone else looks like a perfect employee with the best of experience.  However, while it might seem to be harmless, or while you sit back and might think, “everyone does it,” there are several valid reasons why padding your resume may backfire! 

Integrity in the workforce is worthwhile. 

Lying on your resume can have serious consequences in the workplace. Not only do you risk damaging your credibility and trustworthiness in the eyes of your prospective employer, but if your lies (or very big exaggerations) are discovered, it could lead to job loss, a damaged reputation, and legal consequences.

I know of a woman who was based in the New England area. She was hired at a company based on her submitted resume.  However, she embellished her qualifications and skills on her resume. Eventually, at her new workplace, she started promoting that she was a PhD—only she wasn’t! Remember, the thing about lying is, it eventually catches up with you. (Golden rules we learn in kindergarten.)  In the end, she lost her job.

It’s a tricky slope.  I’m not a PhD, I’m an EdD.  I am fanatical about stating that.  I don’t want it confused. I don’t want people to think I am falsely stating anything, and I make sure there is no confusion.  

Now, lying and big exaggerations are a no-no. But “framing” your experience through the right lens is a yes! There was a young man who I worked with.  He had not done any software project management, but he had done all kinds of other project management, and in turn, he utilized skills that he happened to recently get certified for.  I helped him see the opportunities he had leveraged and I advised him to revise his resume to reflect that. You need to build a customized resume for every job you are applying for. 

A lot of this goes back to flexibility. Most jobs want a person who is not only qualified for the job, but one who is flexible; someone who has expertise in multiple areas.  As you search for a career, you don’t have to be a perfect expert. However, the more broad and diverse you are, the more it brings to the table a different version of diversity. Because the job landscape is changing so rapidly, employers need someone who can adjust to the job in front of them. 

Personally, I made my shift to business, and then to non-profits, all while expanding my international expertise, I added the education piece (EdD) with my doctorate.  Now, I have all five of these, and as an employee, I am flexible. One of the reasons that I love what I do, is the juxtaposition of all five major areas of expertise that I’ve built up through my career.  I can showcase all of these areas on my resume, without losing the integrity of it all

Instead of stretching the truth on your resume, focus on highlighting your genuine skills, strengths, experiences, and achievements. Tailor your resume to not only the job you are seeking, but also to the strengths and accomplishments that you have.  Most employers can see through the exaggerating and the embellishing. If there is an area where you lack the experience an employer is seeking, emphasize the fact that you are willing to learn, grow, and gain the expertise they are searching for…better yet demonstrate that you have developed capabilities in a similar fashion before. Consider ways that you can improve or obtain the skillset that particular employer is looking for. 

Being honest and authentic are valued traits—and they far outweigh the negative consequence of “stretching the truth.”